50th Anniversary of Light

The Henry Ford and Greenfield Village count their official opening from the celebration of Light’s Golden Anniversary 1879 to 1929. The celebration was held on October 21, 1929. There is far too much to tell about that in a single post, but some of what I think is most interesting is below.

Henry Ford Re-Invents the Edison Lightbulb

LightHenry Ford was obsessed with a man he saw as a true genius and indirectly one of his first employers, Thomas Edison. Obsessed to the point that when he relocated the buildings from Menlo Park, New Jersey and recreated Edison’s laboratory in Dearborn, Michigan, he actually had literal acres of dirt hauled to Michigan from New Jersey so it would be right. Obsessed to the point that he asked Edison’s son to catch Edison’s last breath in a test tube which you can still see on display at the museum today. So when Edison felt that he was being ignored and his accomplishments minimized by General Electric’s celebration of the anniversary of his invention of the working, practical light bulb (Edison had long ago sold out control of the company), Ford jumped at the chance to out do GE and out do them he did.

Ford’s celebration would include both Edison and the President of the United States at the time, Herbert Hoover. It included a literal ticker tape parade, a national radio broadcast and a dinner attended by dignitaries supposed to be lit only by candles until the magic time the bulb lit when the lights would come on at the very time Edison originally got the first light bulb to light. (This actually ended up having to be a bit sooner than planned because not being used to having candles for light and their dimmer light the people in charge of it totally misjudged the candles which all burned out too early and they had to bring the electric lights on early or sit in the dark.)

Henry Ford had a very particular vision for his museum, now named the Henry Ford and Greenfield Village, but really at this point Ford was mostly setting the museum up for his own amusement. It’s primary exposure to the public so far had been not as a museum, but as the site of Henry Ford’s version of the ideal school. So there were all the problems that normally go with a somewhat rushed grand opening. Ford showed Edison his recreated lab and when Edison asked for a chair, after he stood up the chair was nailed to the floor in the exact spot Edison sat. It’s still there in place today.

I’d long known about the Henry Ford-Greenfield connection with Edison, but I was surprised when I actually got their for the first time and their map/information packet had a photo of Herbert Hoover on the front. Hoover was born in the next county over to me and I’ve had a long association with the three Hoover groups (the national park, the Presidential Library, and the association) there. When I got home I immediately began reading all I could find on the Henry Ford Museum and buying copies of old guidebooks etc. According to the old guide books I read Herbert Hoover even started the fire in the Lincoln Courthouse (one Lincoln practiced law in on the circuit) and they kept it burning for years so it was the same one Hoover lit. Sadly that’s gone out years ago (but still fared better than poor author Luther Burbank whose birthplace has been turned into a giftshop).

The Benson Research Room which I have always found wonderful to work with uploaded a 3 part video of this celebration I share it below. I’m not sure what the tracking numbers are all about or what else was on the reel to get it that high.

Part 1 -Thomas Edison, Herbert Hoover, and Tintypes

Ford had many interests besides Edison, for example he reprinted McGuffey Readers after they had gone out of print because he thought them superior to the textbooks of the time. He also loved trains and railroads as I think you will see.

The Hoovers appear very early on in the clip. That ’60s reference in the title card in between refers to the 1860s, note the shape of the smoke stack on the train. That’s a clue to its age and the fuel used.  It goes past another strange looking engine which is running. That’s one of Ford’s pet projects, a replica of one of the first trains. As a boy young Edison was fired off a train he was working on for not attending to his duties and because one of his experiments blew up (rather messily I gather) in the baggage car. He ended up kicked off the train at Smith’s Creek Depot which Ford moved to the village. You can still see it there today. Sadly most of Ford’s toys aren’t run anymore as they were back in his day of active management. Nice clear shots of Edison and Hoover around 2:25, followed by one of Ford himself. A clearer shot of the early Stephenson engine replica, now on display and immobile in the museum proper at 3:20. Also note the big wheel bicycles now on display on the museum are in use. The mud was unplanned as it was rainy and things weren’t paved. It caused some plans to have to be changed in a hurry, but most people seemed game. That’s Smith’s Creek Depot behind the people walking in the mud. Some of parade had nice Hoover close-ups, otherwise back to the village at 6:50.  The Toll House and Cobbler’s Shop mentioned by poet Whittier. Also still there today.

7:20 Tintypes sadly the photographer was out when I was there or I’d be the proud owner of a tintype of me right now. I could and will have to do an entire post on Tintypes sometime.  7:40 Post Office just recently restored if you mail your postcards here they will be hand stamped with a special cancellation.  I think the log cabin might be one used with McGuffey school today, but not sure. 8:20 The general store I take a special interest in because of my brother who worked the general store when we both worked at a local historic village. 8:35 Clinton Inn which is their historic restaurant today. Well worth the experience I ate there twice on my trip.

Part 2 – The Village Green and Menlo Park

The Town Hall still faces the Green. 0:30 the chapel was one of building built new on the grounds. It’s named to honor Henry’s mother and mother-in-law. Martha-Mary Chapel 0:41 Menlo Park Where originally situated Mrs. Jordan’s boarding house was right by the lab. Many of the Edison workers lived there and when they were first getting started with using light they wired her home first as an experiment.

Part 3 – Thomas Edison Lab and Independence Hall

The lab building is the one with the nailed down chair on the second floor. 0:48 Edison sitting in chair 2:50 The replica of Independence Hall (at least in front) is today The Henry Ford Museum.

This is a great opportunity to see behind the scenes. Thanks for watching with me.

LAST UPDATED Aug 19, 2016: I added my current signature block, section headings, and fixed a typo. I added a couple of clarifying edits, changed the bottom links to full embodied, and added an image.

Sarah S. Uthoff is the main force behind Trundlebed Tales striving to bring the History, Mystery, Magic and Imagination of Laura Ingalls Wilder and other greats of children’s literature and history to life for a new generation. Uthoff is a nationally known Laura Ingalls Wilder authority and has presented at five of the Wilder homesites, many conferences and numerous libraries, museums, and events around the Midwest. Attend one of her programs, schedule one yourself, watch her videos, listen to her podcast, and find her on FacebookTwitterGoogle+ LinkedIn, and Academia.edu. Professionally she is a reference librarian at Kirkwood Community College and director of the Oxford (Iowa) Public Library.


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Sarah Uthoff - Trundlebed Tales

Sarah S. Uthoff is a nationally known Laura Ingalls Wilder authority and has presented at five of the Wilder homesites, many times at the Herbert Hoover Presidential Library and Museum, many conferences and numerous libraries, museums, and events around the Midwest. She is the main force behind Trundlebed Tales fighting to bring the History, Mystery, Magic, and Imagination of Laura Ingalls Wilder and other greats of children’s literature and history to life for a new generation. How can you help? Attend one of her programs, schedule one yourself, watch her videos, listen to her podcast, look at her photos, and find her on Facebook , Twitter , Google+, LinkedIn , SlideShare, and Academia.edu . Professionally she is a reference librarian at Kirkwood Community College and former director of the Oxford (Iowa) Public Library.

One thought on “50th Anniversary of Light”

  1. Wow, I haven’t thought about Greenfield Village in years! My dad was from the area and when we went back to visit his folks in the summer I always wanted to go. My brother and sister and cousins were burned out but Dad and I spent hours going through all the exhibits.

    Thanks so much for the posts and videos. It really is a wonderful place to visit. You get a good vision of what High Tech was back in the day!


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